What problems did employees of the railroad companies face during the Industrial Revolution?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

All employee conditions during the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century were very harsh. In fact, labor conditions were far more dangerous than even those in England. One reason was because America's natural resources were considered highly profitable, and as a result, employers tended to value profit over employee safety and wages.

The railroad industry was particularly dangerous. America's railroad industry became mostly a freight-hauling industry as opposed to a passenger-carrying industry due to America's size and various population densities. Freight hauling was far more dangerous to railroad workers because they often had to work in between moving cars in order to link freight cars together or unlink them. They also had to ride on the cars in order to manually use the brakes to stop the train. Since railroad employee wages were also high, employers had to economize by spending less on trains and equipment and by hiring fewer employees. Fewer employees resulted in not having enough hands to perform a dangerous task, resulting in "many derailments and collisions" (Economic History Association, "History of Workplace Safety in the United States, 1880-1970"). Unfair cuts in wages also led to strikes, such as the Great Rail Strike of 1877, which led to violent riots and more fatalities.